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Iowa Senate Democrats consider push for Constitutional amendment

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | FEBRUARY 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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Super PACs bombarded airwaves across the country and raised millions of dollars for both parties during the 2012 election cycle. However, both state Senate Democrats and the U.S. Supreme Court are planning to weigh in on the issue of campaign funding.

“We saw it play out in 2010 and 2012 in the tune of the billions spent by Super PACs with no transparency,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque. “There’s nothing; it’s in the dark, it’s secret, and it runs counter to our elections and democracy, which should remain in place.”

Jochum and other Senate Democrats are considering a resolution urging Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment restricting corporate contributions to political campaigns. The study bill characterizes recent U.S. Supreme Court actions on campaign finance reform as “egregious.” A similar effort from state Democrats failed last year.

One political expert said the resolution is another example of Democrats’ frustration with the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which led to the creation of Super PACS after the court ruled there should be no limits on campaign contributions from corporations or unions.

“Democrats are obviously unhappy with Citizens United,” said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science. “A lot of times, [the resolution] is more of a political than practical expression.”

The Democrats’ consideration comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear another case dealing with campaign finance.

In McCutcheon vs. FEC, the court will look at the individual limits of campaign contributions set by the Federal Election Commission. Alabama native Shaun McCutcheon sued the FEC along with the Republican National Committee after limits prevented him from donating more then $46,200 to individual candidates and $70,800 on all other contributions. The Republican Party believes current limits restrict the First amendment and they are “too low,” according to court documents.

Hagle said the court’s decision would come down to whether the justices believe the integrity of “clean elections” is enough to justify restricting parts of the First Amendment.

One Iowa Republican Party official said the way to fix the problems would be no limits whatsoever on campaign contributions, because current policy hurts the candidate, the political party, as well as the integrity of the election.

“[The Supreme Court] created a system ripe for corruption,” said A.J. Spiker, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. “It drives the money underground and isn’t held as accountable as a political party.”

Spiker said by getting rid of limits, the system would be much more transparent, and donors would be able to ensure they know where their money is going.

However, Hagle said, even further transparency could have unintended negative consequences.

“Sometimes, people like transparency for a good reason, but in California after Proposition 8, you had all these people get targeted in some particular way,” he said. “It may chill this type of speech.”


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